Spawning-age mackerel at record lows in Atlantic Canada

The number of mackerel old enough to spawn is at the lowest level ever recorded in Atlantic Canadian waters, according to a new assessment from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The information is expected to be shared with industry, environmentalists and other stakeholders at a meeting Tuesday of the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee.

Scientists say the popular bait and recreational fish has been in or near the critical zone, where serious harm is occurring, for a decade.

Big class that sustained fishery nearly all gone

The last big class of mackerel to reach reproductive age occurred in 2015. Four years later, they made up 75 per cent of commercial landings.

Now they’re almost all gone.

Scientists believe just seven per cent of the class is still alive.

“There is no sign of any notable recruitment event in recent years,” according to the assessment.

Fishery concentrated on fish 2-5 years old

The commercial fishery is concentrated on mackerel between two and five years old, of which 56 per cent are removed by fishing.

Very few — less than one per cent — live beyond age five, said the assessment.

Katie Schleit, an environmentalist with the conservation group Oceans North, said there has long been concern about the status of the mackerel stock and high catch levels.

“DFO needs to seriously restrict fishing pressure to promote recovery,” said Schleit. “We are removing these important forage fish from the ecosystem not to eat, but to put in the lobster traps. It’s time that DFO also considers new solutions to promote alternative sources of bait.”

Projections for rebuilding

The assessment suggests the brakes need to be put on the fishery to allow more older, bigger spawners to survive.

The total allowable catch covers all of Atlantic Canada. It was 8,000 tonnes last year, and 7,772 tonnes were landed.

“According to the precautionary approach, removals from all sources should be as low as possible to allow rebuilding. Rebuilding the stock will also require rebuilding the age structure of the stock which has been eroded by overexploitation,” the assessment said.

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